Writer’s residencies sound very mystical—something for the privileged few who can afford application fees—but that’s a myth. There are thousands of writer’s residencies all over the world, and many have no application fee.
I’m headed out for a one-month writer’s residency in Alaska, where I’ll have my own cabin and uninterrupted time to write. It’s an honor to be chosen, and a longterm dream of mine — one I only recently gave myself permission to pursue.
Learn why I thought a writing residency was out of reach, what changed my mind, and my best tips on how to apply for writer’s residencies.
Ready to apply? Skip ahead to where to find writing residencies and application materials required for writer’s residencies.
Writer’s Residencies Misconceptions
Once I found out writing residencies existed, I longed to go to one. Who wouldn’t? Time to hobnob with other artists, getting a room of one’s own to write, feeling free from the pressures of the outside world with no obligation but to the muse?
Pure romance, and I wanted in.
But I only let myself apply for writer’s residencies this year.
I had impostor syndrome. I didn’t think I was “good enough” to win a writing residencies.
There were other things that held me back from applying for writer’s residencies. It was only when I started breaking down these fears and working through the impostor syndrome that I gave it a shot.
It took a few tries. I didn’t get into the first writer’s residency I applied for. But I did get into a dream residency in the first year I applied.
Here’s what kept me back from applying for writer’s residencies, and how I shifted my beliefs.
Fear of not being good enough
It’s common with those socialized female to hold themselves back out of fear of not being perfect.
There’s data that women won’t apply for a promotion unless they meet 100 percent of the job requirements whereas male candidates apply as long as they meet 60 percent of what’s required for the promotion.
I wasn’t sure I was “good enough.” After all, I didn’t have a book out to prove that I was a serious writer.
I decided it was better to wait.
Fear of not having the right experience
This is related to the impostor syndrome.
I told myself I would apply for residencies when I was “established.” But I didn’t define what “established” meant.
I had an MFA. I had publication clips. I’d worked for a lit mag. I had a manuscript. So what was I waiting for?
While elite writers attend big-name writing residencies like Yaddo or MacDowell, there are residencies for emerging artists. There are writing residencies for parents, who can’t get away from their families for extended periods of time.
You might not have the “right” experience for all residencies. But you can find opportunities for writers who are similar to you.
Since I freelance, I don’t get paid time off. Taking time off from work means I don’t get paid.
This was a big dealbreaker for me, since I literally couldn’t afford to go without income!
I have no day job and no safety net of paid time off, so for years I worried about the very real fear of loss of income while pursuing my dream of doing a writing residency. I still worry about loss of income while I’m away, but I decided I wasn’t going to let poverty fears hold me back.
Job flexibility is a privilege and one that makes it easier for me to do this, but there are workarounds.
If you really want to get away and write—so long as time off doesn’t mean you’ll loss your job (i.e., I would never have been able to do this when I worked as a cook)—you can find a way to make it work. It might mean you live on rice and beans for three months to save extra cash, or you hold a mega yard sale, or you take an extra job. It doesn’t need to be easy. But it also doesn’t need to hold you back from your dreams.
Social anxiety about asking for references
Many writing residencies require references. A writer friend told me to ask the most famous writers I know, people within my network who the committee might have heard of.
I had no idea who to ask. I was too far out of college to get in touch with professors. My MFA experience wasn’t great, so I didn’t want to reach out to professors there. I didn’t know anyone established who could vouch for me. I was a no one.
Can you tell this fed my impostor syndrome?
It wasn’t until a local writing teacher told me her take on references that I got over this fear. I’d assumed application committees were name-checking references. I’d figured it was a privileged, who-knows-you sort of thing.
No, she said. They just wanted to make sure you were relatively normal.
My first writing residency in Alaska backed this up for me. I moved into my cabin, and they told me the last guy who’d come here showed up with bottles of gin demanding ice cubes for his afternoon cocktails.
Eventually, I asked CP, a local writing teacher, and writers I’d met at conferences. While one of these people turned me down, the other three agreed to be a reference.
My regret here was not asking sooner. Who knows what opportunities I missed by taking myself out of the running?
Lack of knowledge about finding opportunities
Last but not least, I didn’t know where to find residencies! Below, you’ll find a list of my favorite places to look. Bookmark these websites today, and start finding writer’s residencies that fit your needs!
How to Apply for a Writer’s Residency
I’ve found writer’s residencies through:
Facebook writers groups
While a couple of these resources only list writers residencies, others include residencies open to other types of artists so just read the guidelines carefully.
Whenever I find out about an opportunity after the deadline, I make a note in my calendar so I’ll know about it for the following year.
There are thousands of residencies. For a first time writer’s residency, search out opportunities geared toward emerging writers. Or look for new residencies that are under the radar. International writing residencies may be less competitive than a U.S-based residency.
Application Materials Required for a Writers Residency
Writers residencies vary in their application materials, but most request these things:
This is your chance to talk about you. What turns you on? What defines your style? What are you immersed in right now, and how does it connect to the larger world and to the specific residency you’re applying for?
You can reuse the artist’s statement across applications, maybe tweaking it to highlight characteristics that might appeal to the particular residency.
With the work sample, page requirements vary by residency (ALWAYS read the guidelines since sending too much will get you declined automatically). You should always send your best work. Even if your best work is not what you will work on in the residency. It can feel wrong to send 25 pages of the novel you’re querying when your application says you’ll be working on a book of essays, but trust me…. they want to see your best work that represents you at your highest and more creative brilliance.
For all the writing awards I’ve won, I’ve sent pages from a work I’ve been querying and discussed a work-in-progress in my application statement. It’s totally not a problem at all.
Letter of intent
The letter of intent should cover why you, why now, and what you’ll do. Rather than write something you think they’ll want to hear, just be honest. Write from your gut. If you need time to brainstorm a new work or want to finally pursue that passion project of diner poems, just talk about it clearly and so your passion shows through. Sure, you will feel vulnerable writing about why you’re desperate to get away and write, but it will lead to a better application.
While you may be able to reuse snippets of the letter of intent, this should first and foremost be tailored to the residency in question. I recommend you read over their call for submissions and pick out words or phrases that seem important to them. Go over their website. What do they highlight? How does that resonate with your work?
Review the guidelines after you’ve got a draft to make sure you’ve addressed everything they ask for.
You are often asked to send a list of publications. I’ve got a list of all my clips from the last two years put together from a writing retreat application, so I can copy and paste that in where it’s required. Yes, it’s a pain to pull this together but once you’ve got it, you can reuse it and make minor edits year over year. It’s also something you should have for your website or online portfolio.
Don’t be scared off from applying if you have few or no publications. The work is top consideration, not your publication history. Just double-down on making sure the opportunities you’re consider are geared toward emerging writers.
Artists resumes are totally different from your day job resume. Rather than list your skills, objective, work experience etc. the artists resume covers:
Conferences or workshops you’ve attended
Awards you’ve won
Press (i.e. if you’ve been interviewed or had articles written about you)
Related professional experience (i.e. day job stuff that’s germane to your writing)
It’s not hard and fast, so pick the categories that reflect your experience and omit the others. This is just a handy way for the committee to see your experience, dedication to craft, and publication history. Here’s the artists resume sample I based my writers resume on.
A writing teacher once told me the purpose of references are just to show them you’re not crazy.
Yes, that’s messed up. It speaks to the stigma around mental health and the stereotypes of artists as sensitive snowflakes, or wacky geniuses, or otherwise odd folks who don’t “fit” in normal society.
But I hope it takes the pressure off finding references for a writer’s residency.
When it’s less a judgment on your work than on your relative normalcy (ewww, I know, but I’m passing on the tea), then it opens up your options for who to ask.
You don’t have to ask the MacDowell genius who taught your freshman writing class, and who you haven’t spoken with in ten years. You can just ask a writing peer, editor, or friend who knows you and can speak about your writing.
We’ve all had people help us out and we like to give back. Speaking from experience, other writers are happy to vouch for you. If you work up the courage to ask, you’ll probably get a yes.
My best advice on references is to line them up early. This way if you do get a no, you have time to line up someone else.
I missed out on a residency because the call for applications and website didn’t say references were needed and I hadn’t lined up references in advance, so I missed the deadline.
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